Suns Needed More Leadership From P.J. Tucker

Apr 7, 2015; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Hawks forward DeMarre Carroll (5) grabs a rebound away from Phoenix Suns forward P.J. Tucker (17) in the third quarter of their game at Philips Arena. The Hawks won 96-69. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 7, 2015; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Hawks forward DeMarre Carroll (5) grabs a rebound away from Phoenix Suns forward P.J. Tucker (17) in the third quarter of their game at Philips Arena. The Hawks won 96-69. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports /

Phoenix- When taking a look at the 2014-15 season for forward P.J. Tucker, it would seem to be a success.

The 6-foot-6 forward out of Texas posted numbers nearly identical to the prior season, which earned him a 3-year $16.5 million contract extension last summer.

Tucker rebounded, played defense and hustled his way towards winning a third straight Dan Majerle Hustle Award, becoming the first Suns player to do so. On the court, Tucker was the same old reliable Tuck that Suns coach Jeff Hornacek could always depend on.

“Well, I’d like all 15 of the guys to be like that [diving on the floor for 50-50 balls], but a lot of teams will have one or two guys who are those real hustle guys, we could always use one or two more of those guys,” Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said. “We expect our young guys to do that, really those guys should be energetic at all times. They should be the guys going down and diving and being enthusiastic.”

The soon to be 30-year-old Tucker showed no signs of slowing down and setting an example on the court for the young guys, it was off the court and in the locker room where he disappointed the team.

His off the court issues started in August when he plead guilty to having a “Super Extreme” DUI of .22, way above the Arizona legal limit of 0.8. That forced him to be suspended by the league for the first three games.

Coming off his suspension Tucker missed the first of two buses during the season. Missing a team bus is something you rarely hear of in professional sports and Tucker managed to miss it twice.

What makes those things become even more prevalent is the fact that Tucker is counted on to be a team leader. The vocal veteran guy that rallies the young guys and sets the example. It is hard to set the tone and be the leader of the room when that person is the one making the mistakes.

And that is where the Suns need more out of Tucker.

“I think some of our most mature guys and some of our guys with the best leadership potential are some of our youngest players,” Suns general manager Ryan McDonough said on the team’s leadership. “But that’s a tricky position for some of our youngest players with Brandon Knight at 23 years old or even Alex Len at 21 years old. So we may need to bring somebody in in free agency or via trade who fills that role. It’s something that we’re going to look at in the offseason.”

That is a subtle shot at guys like Tucker and even Eric Bledsoe. Players that were expected to be or become leaders this season.

Now, that’s not to say Tucker had a complete negative impact in the locker room. After the roster overhaul in February the team was genuinely trying to get back the chemistry of last season, and guys did like each other. Some of the credit for how the team fought despite the trades and injuries can be credited towards Tucker.

“It was good, started out good with everyone rooting for each other,” Tucker said on the chemistry. “But like I said, with all the stuff that happened during the season, it was tough to make trades, roles got changed and injuries were tough but I like how the team fought during season.”

Going back to on-the-court stuff and Tucker was the same player he always was, which also contributed to the Suns 39-43 season, though not by his fault. Tucker is a very good role player, a guy that can rebound, defend any position and hustle around and come up with the 50-50 balls.

What hurts the Suns is that he is their starting small forward in a league where you need a scorer at that position. Tucker’s PPG only dropped from 9.4 to 9.1 from last season, but he suffered a significant dip in his three-point percentage going from a 38.7% to 34.5%.

That dip could be attributed to his increase in 3-point shots a game, averaging an career-high of 3.2 a game which was up from 2.4 in 2013-14. Tucker is a guy that can fill the hustle/defense role for a team to perfection. A guy that can come in for 20 minutes a game and get some rebounds and set the tone defensively while knocking down the occasional corner three.

If the Suns front office can find a scorer to start over Tucker at the three, or if T.J. Warren can take the next step to starter, it would make the team that much better to have Tucker off the bench. It would also suit the team if he can get his off-court issues figured out so he can be the vocal leader the Suns need him to be.

Tucker has the on-court leadership capabilities and his never quit mantra that he plays with and which kept him in the league long enough to earn a chance is something that guys do respect. He will always harp to his teammates to keep fighting no matter the odds and that kind of leadership is what the Suns want out of Tucker next season.

“Nobody standing here two years ago knew how good we were,” Tucker said on media picking against Suns. “You guys picked us to win 15-17 games that year. Even coming out of this season with more expectations nobody thought we would fight, but we were still in playoff race at the end. We still go through the same nobody believes in us and we will keep fighting.”

Next: T.J. Warren: 2014-15 Phoenix Suns Player Grades

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